Postal 'Reform' Update
Mailing Industry Execs Call for Outsourcing, Limits on Bargaining
News Service Vol. 34, No. 4, March 15, 2004 | PDF
Representatives of the nation's largest corporate mailers testified before Senate lawmakers that postal reform legislation must help cut USPS labor costs to keep postage rates down, while the CEOs of FedEx and UPS insisted that Congress restrict the Postal Service from competing in the parcel delivery market.
In a pair of hearings held March 9 and 11, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee heard representatives of large mailers give their views on measures to change how the USPS operates and treats its workers and customers.
The industry representatives repeated much of the testimony they gave to the House Special Panel on Postal reform several weeks earlier, in which they praised the reform proposals made by the President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service.
Mark Angelson, the new CEO of the nation's largest commercial printer, told lawmakers, "R.R. Donnelley fundamentally supports the recommendations of the President's Commission and we urge Congress to push ahead right now. The status quo is not acceptable."
Blaming the Workforce
The USPS should stick to its "core competency" of mail delivery, Angelson said, and "leave the rest to others" by making it easier to contract-out postal functions to companies like his through "worksharing."
The health of the mailing industry depends on reforming the inefficient mail distribution system, Angelson added, and Congress should give the Postal Service the ability to constantly "optimize" its network by closing processing plants and post offices in a process "free from emotion and politics."
Time Magazine CEO Ann Moore endorsed Commission proposals that would curtail workers' rights in negotiating for pay, benefits, and working conditions. "We fully support the Commission's conclusion that the collective bargaining process needs revision," she said, adding that "today's system of binding arbitration does not always provide an optimal solution."
Moore also called for limiting postage rate increases to the rate of inflation. The success of postal reform, she added, depends on "a rate system that delivers a strong incentive to hold down costs and to provide mailers with predictable rates."
Asserting that "approximately 80 percent of the Postal Service's costs are labor," she advocated reducing those expenses through increased worksharing.
Representatives of the nation's newspaper publishers, however, cautioned lawmakers that suppressed postage rates and special deals such as "negotiated service agreements" for the nation's largest mailers would hurt their industry's ability to compete for advertising dollars.
"Newspapers do not believe that the Postal Service [and Congress] should take sides in the market place competition," said Gary Pruitt, Chairman of the McClatchy Company, publishers of 12 daily and 18 community newspapers.
FedEx CEO Fred Smith and UPS Chairman Michael Eskew urged lawmakers to further restrain the Postal Service from using revenue derived through its letter-mail monopoly to "cross-subsidize" its services in the parcel and overnight delivery markets. "We believe package delivery is well served by the private sector," Eskew said. "The government does not need to be in it."
Smith went a step further by urging Congress to repeal the USPS monopoly on mail delivery by 2008, giving companies such as his access to citizens' mailboxes. In 2008, he noted, similar government protections for privatized European postal systems are scheduled to end. "This would be the single most important step that could be taken," he said.
The Direct Marketing Association, however, rejected the parcel shippers' effort to further restrict the Postal Service from competing with private delivery services. The DMA's president, H. Robert Wientzen, told the Senate committee that many of the businesses he represents "really do depend on the parcel delivery of the Postal Service." DMA members, he added, "find that their services are adequate and cost competitive."
Wientzen also urged the committee to outsource "all functions upstream from the ultimate delivery of mail," calling it "a paramount objective for the 'new' Postal Service."
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, announced her panel would hold a joint hearing with the House Government Reform Committee on March 23. USPS Postmaster General John E. Potter and a senior Bush Administration representative will reportedly be invited to testify.
During debate on the Fiscal Year 2005 budget last week, Sen. Collins sponsored a procedural amendment that would clear the way to "enact comprehensive U.S. Postal Service reform legislation," noting that she and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) plan to introduce a bill in April. Key committees in both chambers are expected to hold votes to amend and/or approve postal reform legislation soon thereafter.
Speaking after the hearings, APWU President William Burrus urged members and local leaders to contact their elected officials. "If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to meet with or write to your legislators and express our concerns about postal 'reform.'"
Lieberman Joins Call for Probe Of White House 'Ricin' Incident
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) is the latest member of Congress to call for a high-level investigation of the communications failures during two October 2003 ricin incidents.
Lieberman, the senior Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, has asked the Government Accounting Office to expand an inquiry that he sought in late October regarding "a suspicious mail piece containing ricin" that was discovered at the Greenville (SC) Airport Mail Facility.
"As you are no doubt aware," Lieberman wrote to GAO Comptroller General David Walker, "a second mail piece containing ricin and addressed to the White House was discovered by the Secret Service on Nov. 6, 2003. This envelope was reportedly postmarked in Chattanooga, TN on Oct. 17. A number of concerns have surfaced regarding this second piece and I am asking that you expand your original inquiry to include the circumstances under which it was handled."
The existence of the second piece of ricin-tainted mail, addressed to the White House, was revealed publicly in news articles in February. Stories about the letter indicated that the Secret Service waited six days before notifying the FBI and other agencies about the contaminated letter.
"I have now received information," Lieberman said in the March 5 letter to GAO, "indicating that at least one representative of postal employees, the American Postal Workers Union, may not have been notified of the existence of that letter last November, despite USPS statements that all representatives were contacted at that time."
"The Secret Service's reported failure to alert the FBI and other agencies raises very serious questions about the handling of this potentially lethal envelope. In addition, I am deeply troubled by the allegations that the APWU was never notified of a potential health risk to its members." Mentioning the problems encountered during the anthrax terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001, Lieberman added that "It is imperative that steps be taken to safeguard the health and safety of postal employees and the public, particularly when the presence of hazardous materials is confirmed."
"I am therefore asking that you conduct an in-depth inquiry to determine what actions were taken by each of the agencies involved and whether these steps were taken in the most timely and effective manner possible," Lieberman wrote. "The inquiry should include a review of when the White House letter was first discovered by the Secret Service and the reasons why other agencies, including the FBI and Postal Service, were not immediately notified."
"You should investigate what efforts were made to ascertain the threat posed by the envelope ... and what actions were taken to monitor and safeguard the health of postal workers potentially exposed to this chemical, and to ensure that no cross-contamination of mail occurred.
"Your investigation should also determine whether Postal Service protocols for handling suspicious mail were followed, including appropriate notification to all employee representatives, and whether these protocols were adequate to protect the safety of postal employees and the public."
APWU President William Burrus has condemned the Administration and the Postal Service for the failure to notify the union and employees about the White House ricin incident. "I was outraged to learn [through a Feb. 5 article] in the Washington Post," Burrus wrote to Postmaster General John E. Potter, "that a mailed item containing poison had been processed through a postal facility; that the facility had not been tested; and that the Union and employees had not been informed."
In late February, a few weeks after the news broke, the Postal Service provided the APWU with a chronology of events describing its procedures in November. In this report, the USPS claims that "all" postal unions were notified of the incident a few days after management learned of it. Burrus described that purported notification as a "blatantly false statement."
"The APWU does not dispute the fact that other unions may have been notified," Burrus said, "but the APWU was not notified, and it is clear that employees in Chattanooga, where the letter destined for the White House originated, were not notified."
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), has asked for an investigation into the failure to tell postal employees in his home district, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), the Ranking Minority Member of the House Government Reform Committee, raised some questions of his own in a letter to Ralph Basham, the director of the U.S. Secret Service.
OPM Approves Voluntary Early Retirement
Previously Excluded APWU-Represented Employees to Get Offers
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has approved the Postal Service's request to offer voluntary early retirement to eligible APWU-represented employees in those categories that management had excluded from last year's early outs.
Consistent with a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the APWU and the USPS on Dec. 19, 2003, the Postal Service requested authority from OPM to offer early retirement to eligible Maintenance and Motor Vehicle Craft employees in Level 6 positions and above, as well as employees covered by the IT/ASC and Operating Services agreements.
Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) now must be offered to Maintenance and Motor Vehicle Craft employees in Level 6 positions and above, no later than July 1, 2005. Employees covered by the IT/ASC agreement must be offered early retirement no later than July 1, 2005. The offers to employees covered by the Operating Services agreements must be made in 2004.
In addition to requiring management to seek OPM approval for the early-outs described above, the Dec. 19 agreement required management to permit all eligible employees in Level 5 positions and below to retire early. This includes employees who were denied the opportunity to retire on Oct. 31, 2003, as well as employees who did not receive Statement of Interest letters from management or did not receive a response to their Statement of Interest letter. Affected employees in this group were required to notify the union by Jan. 9, if they were interested.
The offer is to be made to such employees before Dec.31, 2004. If operational needs require, however, the retirement date for Retail Clerks may be delayed, but to no later than July 1, 2005.
The Dec. 19, 2003, agreement also required management to offer voluntary early retirement to employees who became eligible during the period from Nov. 1, 2003, through Feb. 29, 2004. The Postal Service will offer such employees the opportunity to retire during 2004. However, if operational needs require, the effective dates for Maintenance and Motor Vehicle Craft employees in Level 6 positions and above may be delayed, but to no later than July 1, 2005. The effective dates for Retail Clerks may also be delayed, but to no later than July 1, 2005.
Employees who were offered but declined early retirement on Oct. 31, 2003, will also be given another opportunity for early retirement, based on an agreement reached Jan. 12, 2004. Affected employees in this group who were interested were required to notify the union by Feb. 2.
"OPM's approval brings us one step closer to ending a bitter dispute that began with the December 2002 contract extension," said President Burrus. As part of the contract extension agreement, the union and management agreed that the Postal Service would offer early retirement to all eligible APWU-represented employees.
The Postal Service's initial request to OPM for VER authority did not exclude any categories of employees. However, after receiving OPM approval, the Postal Service failed to offer early outs to some groups of employees. The APWU opposed the exclusions and initiated court action and a contract dispute.
The Dec. 19, 2003, agreement resolved the dispute.
April 28: Workers Memorial Day
On April 28, the labor movement will observe Workers Memorial Day to remember workers who have been killed or injured on the job and to renew the fight for strong safety and health protections.
Labor unions traditionally have been in the forefront of the struggle for better on-the-job conditions. Building on that past, the theme of this year's Workers Memorial Day is "Good Jobs. Safe Jobs. Protect Workers Now."
The AFL-CIO is urging union members to organize observances on April 28 that highlight the toll of job-related injuries as well as "the staggering loss of good jobs" themselves.
"Make it clear," said John J. Sweeney, the labor federation's president, "that the labor movement will continue to fight to make workers' issues a priority and to keep and create good, safe jobs in this country."
To take part in the fight, contact your local or state APWU president or the AFL-CIO Department of Safety and Health (202-637-5367), or visit www.aflcio.org/yourjobeconomy/safety/memorial.